The Reality of God and Historical Method by Samuel V. Adams offers an in-depth look into how God’s existence impacts historical method. Adams specifically utilizes the work of N.T. Wright as a lens for apocalyptic theology and historical study.
The central thesis of the book is that the reality of God ought to have a significant impact on our historical method. Thus, a method like N.T. Wright’s which specifically sets out to treat the Bible like any other historical book takes away the power of God’s breaking into history. God’s activity in history causes an “irruption” in which history is reconstituted and centered around that event. Specifically, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection entail that all of history is now oriented around those events, rather than being a kind of unified whole without any outside influence.
Adams pursues his argument by first outlining Wright’s historical method. Then, he introduces the notion of a theological view of history. For Adams, history ought to be informed by theology. The reason for this is because Christology demands that if Christianity is true, then God’s acting in history ought to determine how history is done, rather than having Christians attempt to do history in a way that puts God on the sideline. Thus, history is not a continuous chain, but rather the in-breaking of God into history brings discontinuity. Adams therefore argues that historiography cannot be theologically neutral. Believing God exists means that the way we do history must itself change. He uses the notion of apocalyptic to show how this method plays out, with theology informing historical study.
The book provides fascinating insight into and critique of N.T. Wright’s historical method, but it is much more than that. Adams presents a significant step forward into how theological history is to be understood.
The main criticism I have of the book is that it does little to present how, exactly, one is to do history going forward. Granting the notion of God’s in-breaking into history and the discontinuity that makes, what impact does this make for historical study beyond those things we tend to think of as theological. For example, how does Adams’ view of historical method impact how one does investigation into a specific event like McCarthyism or the Presidency of George Washington? Does it have no impact at all? That seems to be unlikely given the commitments Adams has drawn out. Does it mean that all history must be redefined by God’s in-breaking of the Word? If so, how?
The Reality of God and Historical Method is a fascinating, deep work that warrants careful reading. It is the kind of book that opens up new avenues to explore, and I think it should make an impact farther reaching than just one book. It will be interesting to see if Adams will continue the project and offer a way to interpret history more broadly than apocalyptically.
+In-depth look at N.T. Wright’s historical method
+Fascinating thesis with historical and theological import
+Well-documented with many insights
+New avenues to explore
-Not enough specifics on a way forward
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not required to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).
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